THE Philippine Ambassador to Saudi Arabia and three other embassy officials are being severely criticized over the violent dispersal and alleged torture of demonstrating overseas Filipino workers (OFW) by the Saudi police in Riyadh.
In a statement released on Friday, the Asia Pacific Mission for Migrants (APMM) said Ambassador Ezzedin Tago ordered his officers to cut off water and electricity in the embassy compound to force the migrants to leave.
“If the Philippine embassy in Riyadh cannot protect their own people, they better resign because they are not worthy to hold any position in government office,” the labor group said.
It called on the Department of Foreign Affairs and the Aquino government to relieve Tago, Labor Attachè Adam Musa and Mr. Abdullah Umpah “for they have no right to remain as officials of Philippine government.”
The group raised an outcry following reports that officials of the Philippine embassy in Riyadh allegedly connived with Saudi police to violently disperse the picketing Filipinos who were living in the tent city.
The APMM said the three Philippine embassy officials called the Saudi police to take drastic action against the migrants.
The group said the Filipinos’ protest was broken up by Philippine Overseas Labor Office (POLO) officer Umpa and the Saudi police.
Three migrant leaders who escaped from detention and who are now in the custody of migrant organizations claimed that they were tortured and electrocuted by the Saudi police.
The group said three other migrant leaders were missing.
APMM urged the Philippine government to use of the extension period given by King Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz to immediately bring home the stranded Filipinos in Saudi Arabia.
On Tuesday, the Saudi government extended the deadline for the implementation of its Saudization policy from July 3 to November 3.
APMM also urged Malacañang to prosecute recruitment agencies that provided the Filipino jobseekers with non-existent jobs and to prioritize reforms that will protect them.
The Labor department declined to comment on the issue but assured the public that it will verify the reports.
Agency in charge
The Foreign Affairs department said it is up to the DOLE to pursue the cases against labor attaches in the Middle East who were implicated in the “sex-for-flight” scheme.
Raul Hernandez, Foreign Affairs spokesman, told a press briefing the Labor department should be the one to probe the allegations against its labor attaches, who the agency has already recalled.
The consultations conducted by the Foreign Affairs department, Hernandez said, were in response to the allegations brought to light by Akbayan Representative Walden Bello.
“The consultations resulted in a number of facts being shared by our ambassadors and the results of which were shared with the secretary of DOLE,” he said.
“So, it’s really up to DOLE to pursue these allegations and get enough testimonies and witnesses and hopefully, formal complaints from OFWs,” he said.
Three complainants, identified only as “Michelle,” “Annalisa” and “Angel,” earlier accused Riyadh-based assistant labor attache Antonio Villafuerte and former labor attache to Jordan Mario Antonio of sexually harassing them.
The Labor department has launched its own inquiry into the allegations. Villafuerte was also recalled from his post.
The complainants were not able to identify a certain “Kim,” said to belong to the Philippine augmentation team in Syria.
The DFA has recalled its envoys in Syria, Kuwait, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Oman, United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Egypt, Libya and Lebanon to consult with them regarding the scheme where distressed Filipinas have to provide sexual favors to embassy officials to expedite their repatriation.
The department also recalled diplomats in Singapore, Malaysia and Hong Kong after a fact-finding investigation led the agency to believe that the scheme is being done in countries with halfway houses or Filipino Workers’ Resource Centers where distressed Filipino migrant workers seek refuge while awaiting repatriation.
Hernandez said a fact-finding team organized by the Foreign Affairs department is still in the Middle East, “and their mission there has not been finished, so we will wait until they will come out with the report [regarding the sex-for-fly scheme].”
Meanwhile, Labor Secretary Rosalinda Baldoz urged household service workers (HSWs) bound for abroad to honor their contracts.
“OFWs must honor their commitments, too, even while they are still applying for an overseas job to bolster the preference for them by employers in countries of destination,” Baldoz said.
Earlier, the secretary said the first Philippines-Saudi Arabia Joint Committee meet paved the way for preventing cases of runaway-turned-distressed HSWs.
Under the bilateral agreement, the two countries will provide assistance to runaway HSWs.
It also sets the mechanism involving employers and recruitment companies in conciliation proceedings with runaway domestic workers.
The agreement followed the Philippines-Saudi Arabia bilateral agreement on the Recruitment and Deployment of Domestic Workers which was signed last May.
Meanwhile, Victor Fernandez, president of the Philippine Association of Service Exporters, Inc., an organization of licensed overseas recruitment agencies, said DOLE and the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA) are strictly implementing the “no-placement-fee policy” in the recruitment of HSWs.
Fernandez said the labor department rigorously demands licensed overseas recruitment agencies to comply with the regulation.
“Currently, most recruitment agencies recruiting and deploying HSWs to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia are announcing that HSW applicants are exempt from the payment of pre-application medical examinations and personal documents,” he said.
“In most cases, everything is provided free of cost to the HSWs, including the cost of transportation from the province to Manila, food and accommodation while in Manila, skills training, securing personal documents such as passport and clearances, pre-employment and complete medical examination, and skills assessment. This appears to be the trend in the HSW labor market,” Fernandez said.
However, the procedure is being abused by some HSW applicants, he said.
“We have recorded that more OFWs are abruptly and irresponsibly deserting their applications and commitments for employment overseas without informing and communicating their true intentions to withdraw from or to no longer pursue their applications with their recruitment agencies,” Fernandez said.
“In several instances, documentation process had been completed and the HSW advised of her travel itinerary. On the day of scheduled departure, the HSW is a ‘no show’… resulting in financial damages on the part of their foreign employers and the overseas employment service providers,” he added.
Fernandez suggested sanctions against HSWs who renege on their contracts.